HM Revenue and Customs tax record special categories - FOIA Internal Review (after 6 months !)

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HM Revenue and Customs have at last, after 6 months, sent their Internal Review of their decision not to reveal any details about the special categories of people who allegedly get extra security for their tax records - a completely unacceptable 2 tier system - why isn't everyone's tax record given this "special category" protection from internal HMRC staff who may be tempted or corrupted to snoop ?.

The Request for an Internal Review - March 2008:

HMRC tax record special categories - request for FOIA Internal Review

The original FOIA request was sent at the end of January 2008:

See HMRC response to FOIA request for general details of the Special Categories of tax returns of Celebrities and VIPs etc.

Unsurprisingly the HMRC Internal Review does not rule in favour of disclosure.

HMRC did answer ("outside the terms of the Act") one of the additional points put to them when requesting the Review, namely how vulnerable people e.g. victims of domestic violence are meant to know that their tax records could be "protected" in a "special category", but they fail to say what the eligibility criteria are, or how one can check if this is actually being done properly.

The Information Commissioner's Office guidelines state that a Freedom of Information Act Internal Reviews, even in the most complicated cases, should not take more than 6 weeks, so the 6 month delay by HMRC is either due to incompetence or political manipulation.

This delaying tactic prevents an FOIA requestor from complaining to the Information Commissioner's Office, until the Internal Review by the Government Department has been completed.

Since the HMRC Internal Review process is now exhausted, we are forced to add to the Queue of FOIA Complaints at the Information Commissioner's Office.


[name of civil servant]
Corporate Governance
100 Parliament Street
London SW1A 2BQ

Tel 020 7147 3234
Fax 020 7147 0666

Email [firstname.secondname]

Date 29 September 2008
Our Ref FOI 1075/08
Your Ref


Dear XXX

Internal review of your Freedom of Information request

In your e-mail of 11th March 2008 you requested an internal review of the HMRC's response of 6th March 2008 to your request under the Freedom of Information Act (FoI) sent on 28th January 2008. That internal review has now been conducted by a senior official of HMRC and I am writing to inform you of the conclusions he reached.

I would firstly like to apologise for the length of time it has taken to complete the internal review. As you will appreciate, your FOI request relates to a very sensitive issue, and we have had to consider carefully all of the relevant factors.

The reviewer found that your request was considered and progressed expeditiously with no material delays. The request related to a sensitive subject, with several potential exemptions to consider. The appropriate exemptions were considered, and due consideration given to the public interest test. The officials handling the request were mindful of the statutory 20 working day target date for reply. Active consideration was given as to whether an interim reply should be sent within this timeframe noting that exemptions were being considered. In the event, it was decided that the short delay before a substantive reply could be made was a better way forward. The request was properly and professionally handled and appropriate internal policy and procedures were complied with.

In your request for an internal review, you make a number of additional points which may be
summarised as:

  • you are not asking for names, seeking only approximate numbers and descriptions of categories, and you cannot understand how providing such information can put individuals at risk.
  • HMRC's unwillingness to reveal numbers is undermined because some organisations, employees of which you assume would be additionally protected, are content to publish the approximate number of their employees

  • It is not clear how additional safeguards work for some categories of people eg a victim of domestic violence, if they do not know that such protection exists and that they could ask for it to be applied.

I will deal with these points separately.

As well as the specific physical, procedural and audit systems HMRC has in place to afford additional protection to certain customers, HMRC has a policy of restricting knowledge of those systems and policies and how they operate to a small number of officials. This provides a further and important layer of protection because it makes it more difficult for those who seek inappropriately to gain access to information about additionally protected customers to know where and how they should target their efforts. To publicly reveal information about the numbers, nature and procedures would involve removing some of that protection and consequently heightening the risk of exposure of those customers that are additionally protected.

That organisations with operations of a sensitive nature are prepared to reveal broad numbers of their employees does not in HMRC's view undermine this policy because we do not confirm or deny that the records of employees of certain organisations are additionally protected.

In reconsidering the request and the additional points you raise, the internal reviewer reached the same conclusions. For the reasons set out in our previous response, we continue to believe that listing the categories of individuals whose records are subject to additional safeguards within HMRC, and the numbers within them, remains exempt under s.23, 36 (2) (c) and 38 (1) (a) and (b) of the FOI Act.

You also raise a point about how vulnerable people might avail themselves of additional protection for their records. I am responding on this point outside the terms of the Act. I can
confirm that post codes etc. have no relevance in this respect. HMRC has appropriate processes in place with relevant organisations, such as, for example, local authorities and charitable organisations, through which those organisations can inform us of any people they believe might be vulnerable. HMRC has well established processes for determining the treatment appropriate to the customer records of those individuals.

If you are not content with the outcome of the internal review, you may appeal to the Information Commissioner for a decision. He can be contacted at: The Information Commissioner's Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF.

Yours sincerely

[name of civil servant]

1 Comment

So the vulnerable individual has to rely on "appropriate processes" in place with "relevant organisations". How reassuring.

One wonders how our beloved leaders measure the effectiveness of these "appropriate processes" and whether or not there is abuse by "relevant organisations".

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